Should clergy be mandated reporters when a child discloses they are the victim of sexual abuse, even if learned in the confessional?
(For Immediate Release April 4, 2023)
This statement was written by New Jersey SNAP Leader, Mark Crawford
Topic: Should clergy be mandated reporters when a child discloses they are the victim of sexual abuse, even if learned in the confessional?
Why clergy MUST be mandated reporters when they learn of a child being sexually abused, yes, even if learned during the sacrament of confession.
As a young teenager, I was repeatedly sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by my parish priest several times a week for several years. I eventually learned the same was true for my younger brothers. The priest insisted I go to him for confession, to confess my sins. That insistence was nothing more than a skilled predator ensuring I saw such actions as my complicity in the sexual contact the priest was perpetrating. In other words, the sin was mine, not his.
For a young teenager, these instances of sexual abuse were infused with a perpetrator's faux love and concern. The priest often willingly lavished me with material gifts I could otherwise never have and took me on many trips away from home. These acts were torturous, causing mind-bending conflict and demanding a level of emotional response young children are not yet equipped with the ability to comprehend, causing confusion and great emotional distress.
I began to go to other priests for confession, in hopes of obtaining help to ensure such sexual contact stopped. I told the priests that another priest and I were having sexual relations but I wanted it to stop, that he was touching me in ways that would cause me to sin. What I wanted was help, for someone to intervene and stop the unwanted sexual acts. In all but one of these instances, the clerics failed to express a desire to help stop the abuse or even concern. To my great dismay, it did not stop as no real help ever materialized.
Further, I eventually sought out and told several other clergy, a deacon, several priests, a chancery official, and even a bishop, all outside the seal of confession. One of the priests I told, also a friend and fellow seminarian of my abuser, was charged with abusing two young brothers, was sent for “help,” and was eventually returned to ministry. Even then, my abuser still did not stop his pursuit of me. He was not even removed from my parish. A few years later he was even promoted: he was appointed as the personal secretary to then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. I believe McCarrick knew and should have known of this priest's past abuse of young boys, yet McCarrick still promoted him to serve at his side.
The one priest who expressed concern as I told him under the seal of confession gave me no concrete way in which he would help. He knew my family, as he was from my hometown. My mother and his mother at times attended daily mass together. This priest who said he would find a way to help was also another friend and seminary classmate of my abuser. I learned decades later that he once told my mother, as my father was hospitalized and dying from cancer, to keep this priest from me and my brothers. She was asked to stop him from coming into our home and break off any association with him. He explained he couldn’t tell her why, nor did he ever mention that I had spoken to him. He just said that he thought the closeness of this cleric to my family was not good for him as a priest and that she must find a way to stop this parish priest from spending time at my house.
The fact is, the reason I was telling other priests in confession and outside the confessional was because I was seeking assistance to stop the abuse. It was a cry for help, help that never came. It brought me to the brink of deep despair on more than one occasion. Any child telling a priest, in the confessional or not, is not confessing a sin but reporting a crime. At such a point, no longer is the child a penitent but a victim seeking help. As such, every cleric should be a mandated reporter when he/she learns of such a crime from the child victim, whether learned in the confessional or not. Society must demand no less.
Survivor of clergy abuse and advocate for the abused
NJ State Leader, SNAP 732-632-7687